Happy Girl Kitchen Co.
Tickled by Pickles: Happy Girl Kitchen Co. opens in Pacific Grove.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Summer’s end always sends me into mourning. Goodbye heirloom tomatoes in all their sun-ripened goodness. Farewell ruby red strawberries with hints of honey and perfume. Adios peaches.
This fall, however, I’m not hanging my head down in despair—because husband and wife preservationist team Todd and Jordan Champagne unveiled their Happy Girl Kitchen Co. headquarters and café in Pacific Grove in September.
The Champagnes started Happy Girl Kitchen out of an innate passion for preserving, especially pristine produce that would otherwise go to waste. However, it’s not just about enjoying strawberries in winter. Food preservation satisfies a combination of ecological, agricultural, social and cultural traditions.
“Preserving food is a cooking investment, it’s like saving the past,” Todd explains. “It’s the intersection of traditions of yesteryear in keeping with today’s ‘buy fresh’ philosophy to enjoy foods in the off-season.”
Happy Girl Kitchen has had a cult following in the San Francisco Bay Area. They sell their certified organic pickles and preserves at numerous farmers markets (the Ferry Terminal Building and Berkeley are just two), and their workshops are sold out months ahead.
Lucky for us, they decided to move their production facility from Watsonville to the former home of Central Avenue Bakery in Pacific Grove to be closer to their Big Sur ranch. Now, summer can linger year-round.
The airy, cavernous space Todd dubs the “center for home preservationists on the Central Coast” is at once bustling and welcoming. The cheery leaf-green walls with cream-colored trim set the stage for this community gathering spot.
In the production kitchen, a single commercial stove and range and a steam kettle make up the bulk of their equipment where as much as 1,000 pounds of produce per week come through during summer. A blackboard announces the day’s activity, perhaps “crushed tomatoes” or “bread and butter pickles,” as a handful of employees clad in white coats pack summer’s bounty into jars.
Heavy-duty shelves are stacked floor to ceiling with hundreds, even thousands, of jars of fruits and vegetables.
In the retail area sits a wide array of Happy Girl Kitchen items. Some of my favorite preserves ($10/jar) include apricot jam (delicious on wheat toast) and quince jelly (delightful stirred into tea), while the pickled and preserved vegetables ($8/jar) run the gamut from spicy bread and butter pickles to cumin green.
Plus, home preservationists can pick up canning supplies such as crocks, jars, lids, pickling spices and vinegar.
Happy Girl products are also incorporated into the small but robust menu at the onsite “café-in-progress.” The menu is limited for now but Todd says, “We’d like to solicit comments from the community on what to sell.”
You can greet the morning with toast slathered with your choice of Happy Girl jam ($2.50), granola and milk ($4), or a freshly baked morning bun ($2.50).
At lunch, I’ve savored two different sandwiches of the day ($4.50): on one, slivers of sundried tomato meet heirloom tomatoes and gruyere cheese, and on the other, an open-faced sandwich topped with cheddar cheese and chunky tomato slices is given a turn on the grill. Both were served on Parker-Lusseau ciabatta and accompanied by a side of pickles. (I’m tickled that dill pickles are available by the spear, $1.50.)
I also had my first taste of kombucha (a fizzy, fermented tea drink, $2.50), flavored with pomegranate, here. Freshly made by Kombucha Botanica, a different flavor is on tap every week. The housemade lavender lemonade ($4) is tinted a cheery pink thanks to a touch of hibiscus. And while they don’t serve espresso drinks just yet, you won’t miss your double tall soy latte one bit thanks to the full bodied Blue Bottle beans that are transformed into some of the best drip coffee ($1.90) on this continent.
For DIY types, Happy Girl HQ also offers regular workshops (visit happygirlkitchen.com/workshops for upcoming dates). Todd believes anyone can can (pardon the pun).
“Preserving is like making a salad but with an extra step,” he says. “The canning process is not rocket science—all it is is dunking cans in hot water.”
Hence the Happy Girl teaching approach is casual and informed, but also empowering. “We want to give people the principles to be creative while remembering the safety involved,” says Todd.
In addition to teaching people how to safely preserve food at home, they also want to pass on their good relationships with farmers through the Food Preservationists community.
Members join a program much like CSA (community supported agriculture) but with more flexibility. You are free to order what you want, when you want. Throughout the year, produce such as tomatoes, strawberries, peaches, pickling cucumbers and more are offered in bulk, and all are of the same quality used in Happy Girl recipes.
So take home a jar of jelly, lunch in the café or learn to preserve at home, and become a can-do recruit in Happy Girl Kitchen’s preservation revolution.